Since 1993, the German national television station ZDF has filmed more than a hundred of author Rosamunde Pilcher’s stories. Born in Lelant, just along from Carbis Bay, in 1924, her breakthrough came in the 1980s with ‘The Shell-Seekers’ which was also made into a UK TV film starring Angela Lansbury. But it would be in Germany that Pilcher found her biggest following, with the films, shot in Cornwall with a German cast, leading to huge numbers of fans visiting the Duchy to discover the sites used in filming, including Prideaux Place at Padstow.
The German King of Cornwall
It must be nice to receive the whole of Cornwall as a birthday present. In celebration of his younger brother reaching the age of sixteen in 1225, King Henry III of England offered Richard Plantagenet exactly that; Richard gained the title of Earl of Cornwall (the precedent of the Duke of Cornwall, a title which still exists today) and enough land with its associated revenues to turn the royal teen into one of the wealthiest men in Europe. This was to prove handy when the German throne was up for grabs; a brother-in-law of a previous king, Richard was not the likeliest choice but this wasn’t something a few expensive bribes couldn’t fix.
A history of German kings seems an unexpected place to find a reference to this small corner of Britain, but between Wilhelm von Holland and Rudolf von Habsburg sits Richard von Cornwall. He is perhaps best remembered today for Tintagel Castle; hoping to win support from the Cornish people and inspired by the tales of King Arthur, Richard commissioned a castle to be built on the land where this mythical king was believed to have ruled his people.
Richard of Cornwall’s legitimacy was hotly disputed in Germany, and he struggled to gain widespread support amongst its people – but our Richard did at least manage to leave his mark on Cornwall.
Forever Seeking Pilcher
As a Cornish writer with over 60 million books sold and over 145 adaptations of her works, it seems odd that you are far more likely to find fans of Rosamunde Pilcher on the streets of Berlin than in Cornwall. If you were to find a fan in Cornwall, there’s a high chance they are on holiday from Germany – perhaps even hunting down Prideaux Place, St Michael’s Mount and a whole host of other Cornish locations that have featured in Pilcher productions.
The author was far from unknown in the UK – many of her books appeared on bestseller lists and Coming Home received an adaptation starring Keira Knightley and Joanna Lumley – but her romances found a whole new love in Germany, where over a hundred of those adaptations have been made for German television with each one comfortably attracting audiences of millions.
Many have pondered what captured the German zeitgeist so dramatically. Born in Lelant and educated in Penzance, Pilcher immerses her audience in the Cornish scenery of her childhood; the cosy village atmospheres and sunny escapism provided the recurring themes as her works became a firm fixture of Sunday night in Germany, a televisual comfort food to warm its viewers. Rosamunde Pilcher inadvertently made a German celebrity out of Cornwall, its hills and beaches all the more appreciated by her words.
Fancy Seeing You Here…
With Germany and Cornwall having established themselves as arguably the two finest exporters of mining talent in the world, these two cultures became destined to meet and share destinies in faraway lands. As well as exchanging men amongst themselves – including as far back as 1292, when German expertise was called upon to develop the Cornish silver mines of King Edward I – their renown would lead them both into the dark recesses of such nations as Australia, the United States, Canada, Mexico and Peru.
The two mining powerhouses brought their own distinct characters along for the voyage. At a time when a Cornish project was struggling with dreadfully slow progress whilst reconstructing a mine and making their new Mexican accommodation habitable, a nearby community of German miners was reported as having advanced as far as developing a highly sophisticated printing press and German-language newspaper – much to the awe of the Cornishmen when they viewed it. Yet there was a rather more fearful awe during a meeting of the two in Minnesota, when German observers were said to be horrified by the unscientific ‘rule of thumb’ measurements of Cornish miners and their liberal use of explosives to solve problems.
Contrasting work ethics aside, both would learn to enjoy each company; there are reports in California of German miners turning out to watch Cornish wrestling tournaments, whilst the Cornish would return their support at German choir events.
Honour Among the Seas
Dubbed the “Victorian Titanic”, little more is needed to explain the fate of the Schiller on the stormy rocks around the Isles of Scilly on 7th May 1875. But plenty can be said about the selfless efforts of the Isles of Scilly residents and the Cornish boats who made the journey from the mainland.
The wayward voyage of the passenger ship from New York to Hamburg would leave the 254 passengers and 101 crew – almost entirely German – stranded in the ocean with just a single lifeboat successfully deployed. It was a few hours before the wreckage had been located in the thick fog but, once found, Scillonian vessels would begin the search and recovery efforts with help from Newlyn and Porthleven fishermen. Newspapers of the time report how hundreds gathered to welcome the arrival of survivors in Penzance, whilst giving praise to the honest fishermen (many likely impoverished) who made sure to deliver any rings, jewellery and other valuables they came across.
Whole communities would contribute to the seismic burial operation that took place, both in the Isles of Scilly and Cornwall. Built by a mourning husband who travelled over from Germany, a giant obelisk of Penryn granite stands above the St Mary’s graveyard as a tribute to both his wife – Louise Holzmeister – and those on board the Schiller that day.
A Bear’s Eye View
In the hope of returning a little bit of cheer for his wife following recent bereavements, German photographer Olaf von Dombrowski began to photograph the adventures of Cheddar the Travelling Teddy Bear – the first album took place in Cornwall, where the couple holiday regularly. What began as a personal project would soon snowball into a large following on social media and an appearance at the Newquay Arts Festival, the first exhibition of many in the UK and across the continent.
Since those quaint beginnings against the backdrops of Tintagel and St Ives, Port Isaac and Holywell Bay, the Travelling Teddy Bear has had photoshoots in front of Buckingham Palace and the Eiffel Tower. But Cheddar hasn’t forgotten his roots, returning to Cornwall annually to seek out yet more sunny beaches and engine houses. Coming up to a decade later, the Travelling Teddy Bear recently announced a ‘virtual tour of Cornwall’ for those missing the region during the pandemic lockdown. Just as he was born to do, the Travelling Teddy Bear can still bring a smile when people need it most.
Credit: Joseph Martin